A spooky quiz: The world's biggest pumpkin

The team have thought up some spooky science questions for you to sink your fake vampire teeth into...
26 October 2021

Interview with 

Gareth Mitchell, Chris Riley, Eleanor Drinkwater, Andrew Steele


A castle surrounded by bats


Now, as we always do, we have a little quiz at this point in the programme; you can play along at home too...

Gareth and Chris, you’re team 1
Eleanor and Andrew, you’re team 2

You can, of course, confer. In anticipation of Halloween, and being the creepiest of months this week’s quiz will be extra spookyyyyyy...

Harry - That's right. Round one, we've got 'Hubble, Bubble, Boil and Trouble'. This is a question on potions. So for team one, a spooky foggy environment for your Halloween party can be easily achieved with a bit of dry ice and some water. When exposed to room temperature, dry ice, or solid CO2 turns to a gas causing the water to turn to fog. But what is the temperature above which dry ice turns to gas? Is it a) minus 58.5 degrees Celsius? Is it b) minus 78.5 degrees Celsius? Or is it c) minus 98.5 degrees Celsius? What do we think, team one?

Gareth - Wow. I hope Chris knows with his planetary science. My engineering is leaving me a little bit, kind of clueless here, really. It might be a guess.

Chris - I'm assuming we're not allowed to look these up.

Gareth - No, I was about to Google it actually. Is that not allowed? Would anybody notice?

Harry - I don't think the both of you being on the same team is such a good idea anymore.

Gareth - We're just really competitive. Aren't we, Chris?

Chris - I guess so. I mean, I know, I know it's if you drop it on your hands, it's a, it's a bit of a party trick, isn't it? It doesn't like really badly injure them. I think it's lower rather than higher is my guess.

Andrew - Are we allowed to jump in for a bonus point? I think anyone who's ever worked in a biology lab should instantly know the answer to this question because there's a special freezer that's around this kind of temperature.

Harry - Well, I think Andrew stolen the show here. So you're going to have to take over Andrew. This wasn't in the script, everyone. So we're going completely off road.

Gareth - We can answer their question.

Andrew - That's the way it's going to go. It's a real high risk strategy this, isn't? I'm giving you access. So, the answer is B minus 78 degrees.

Harry - My goodness, Chris and Gareth, how did you know that? Fantastic. The answer is B. A Number of other uses beyond just fog include for preserving food and vaccines. So dry ice gets used for quite a few different things. Question two, this is coming over to team two. Vampires love human blood. It's a well-known fact, but when humans are in short supply or things are tough financially, they might have to turn to a bit of chemistry in order to get some fake blood instead. One way to do this is to combine the colourless potassium thiocyanate, that's KSCN, water, and one other colourless compound. So two colourless compounds that come together and make fake blood. But what compound is the other? Is it a) iron chloride, b) manganese, chloride, or c) iodine chloride?

Eleanor - Well I know from my days as an amateur dramatics person that the answer is always ketchup, but that wasn't one of the options. So I'm not sure.

Andrew - Ah, this is tough, isn't it? I mean, obviously there's, there's iron in real blood, but there's also potassium. I don't know. Chemistry is my blind spot. Let's go for it - iodine whatever it was.

Harry - It was in fact, iron chloride. And you can do this at home as well. Add it with potassium thiocyanate there you go. There's a fun Halloweeny science experiment for you. Not just for vampires. Round two is dedicated to pumpkins and I've got a good title here for you guys. So prepare yourselves, it's 'Give 'em pumpkin to talk about'. The Guinness world record for the world's biggest pumpkin is held by Mathias from Belgium, but how large was Mathias's pumpkin? Was it a) 11.9 kilograms, b) 119 kilograms or c) 1,190 kilograms. That's a big pumpkin.

Gareth - It couldn't have been C, could it Chris? Can any pumpkin be that heavy?

Chris - Yeah, I think it could be C. My wife grows pumpkins and they are enormous and they regularly, I think, go up well, well over the middle one, I think. I mean, they're hard to lift and you need two people.

Gareth - Is it possible Chris that you've actually broken the Guinness world record and just not realised?

Chris - Well, I guess, I guess it is. Well, we'll find out soon. Won't we?

Gareth - All right. So you think it's the heavier one. Chris and the family there, they have more pumpkin knowledge than me. I'm really winging it here.

Chris - I think it's over a ton. That's what I would go for.

Harry - The answer is C, there you go. A typical giant pumpkin grows from seed to huge orange squash in only 120 to 160 days. At peak growth, it can put on up to 15 kilograms every day.

Chris - It's almost all water though, I think, right.

Harry - I'm going to go with your knowledge as well, Chris, at this point...

Chris - Having carved a few with my daughter over the last decade, it's pretty mushy when you get in there.

Harry - And that would be an absolute whopper to put on the doorstep.

Chris - You must be able to make a house out of that. I've got a feeling that it features in various nursery rhymes, doesn't it? You know that you've got people living in pumpkins. I'm sure there's one or two.

Harry - Yeah, it rings a bell of a child story for sure. Question two. So this is still on the theme of pumpkins. We're all used to carving them, especially Chris, at Halloween, but this tradition started with another vegetable. Eleanor, Andrew, what is it? Is it a) a suede, b) a turnip or c) sugar beet.

Eleanor - Oh, I'm so I'm from the Isle of Man. And so we actually, we don't celebrate Halloween. We celebrate Hop-Tu-Naa, and traditionally, now I'm going to get lynched if I get this wrong. But I think traditionally it's a turnip, but we don't do it. I tried that before and it was really hard. So we tend to avoid that and go down the pumpkin thing.

Harry - Andrew, I feel like your hands might be tied here. Eleanor has come in very strong there.

Andrew - I feel like it's probably not the sugar beet. That might be a good sort of trick or treat thing. But I think I'm going to go with what Eleanor says. She sounds like she's coming from a place of confidence and slight nervousness.

Harry - The answer is B. It is turnip.

Chris - Wow. What goes on in the Isle of Man then with this festival that's not Halloween. What do you do?

Eleanor - Well, the tradition is actually quite dark as most traditions are. And the idea is that you, you carve it out and you put a candle in it and you have to go from door to door, but then if it blows out, then someone, you know, is going to die in the next year, which is pretty dark. So you've got to make sure it doesn't blow out. It's a friendly, happy tradition.

Andrew - You have quite small holes in it to ensure the health and wellbeing of your relatives and friends.

Eleanor - Exactly. Well, the tricky thing is it's, it's a trade off. You want the smallest hole as possible to stop this thing from blowing out. But at the same time, you want them as big as possible so you get oxygen. And so it's a tricky balance. It's a tricky balance. The whole pumpkin thing is just a lot easier really.

Chris - Sounds very, very stressful.

Eleanor - Yeah. Yeah. Especially trying to carve a turnip. They are really, really hard.

Chris - Wow.

Harry - Fantastic stuff. So at the end of round two, we're looking at one apiece with perhaps a bonus point going in favour of the Sherlock Holmes. That's to be discussed later on, depending on how competitive Gareth and Chris get obviously. Round three, this is the last round. So it's, it's possibly all a piece, I'm not really sure, but it's 'Trick or Treat'. Question one. This is coming back to Gareth and Chris, here we go. Consider this scenario where an unknown alien species is trying to pull a prank on the whole of humanity in one, go by doing the old classic of TP-ing, TP-ing the earth. Assuming that one roll of toilet paper has a total surface area of 94 centimeters squared, how many rolls of toilet paper would be needed to cover the entire surface of the Earth? Is it 5.4 times 10 to the 10 rolls of toilet paper? Is it b) 5.4 times 10 to the 14? Or is it c) 5.4 times 10 to the 28 rolls of toilet paper. Crikey. I'm glad I'm not you boys at the moment.

Gareth - That's more than a mole of loo rolls.

Chris - Yes. Avogadro, eat your heart out. Blimey, Gareth, what you think? How big is the earth?

Gareth - Well, I'm just wondering, would it be enough to wrap around one of your pumpkin's really is the question? So the earth is. We'll have to do pi r squared on this one because isn't the the diameter of the earth about 24,000 miles or something.

Andrew - That’s the circumference of the earth.

Gareth - Oh, thank you. 

Chris - That's the circumference. And what's the volume of a sphere? Is it pi 4...

Gareth - 4pi r3 isn't it?

Chris - Yeah. Is that right, anybody?

Andrew - The volume is four thirds pi r cubed, but the surface area, which is what you're looking for is four pi r squared. If I help them enough, do we sort of get some of the points?

Harry - I think you get liked by the audience, is what happens.

Andrew - Listen to this maths nerd. Let's all love him.

Chris - Well I mean, I can't be bothered to work this out, frankly. Should we just go for somewhere in the middle?

Gareth - In the mid range.

Chris - To the 14, 10 to the 28, there's such big numbers. It's hard to know what's different about them.

Gareth - And I didn't really write the numbers down first time.

Chris - 10 to the 28, so that's a lot. 10 to the 14 feels more...I am more comfortable with that. The Earth is not that big.

Harry - Alright. Yes. That's, that's completely correct. Team two, to stay in the running, here comes the question. Another common ingredient in Halloween sweets is Palm oil. You might have heard of this being linked to deforestation, particularly in Southeast Asia. But what percentage of the items that you find in the supermarket contains palm oil? Is it a) 30%, b) 50% or c) 70%?

Eleanor - That's a really good question.

Andrew - I think it's going to be scarily high, but I feel like 70% is really high. Because I know you have shampoo and soap and stuff. It's not just in...

Eleanor - Yeah, but you get It in a lot of foods, like a lot, a lot of foods.

Andrew - And when it says, like the number of items in the supermarket, when I think about going down to the mega supermarket near us, they've got loads of stuff in there. Like it's not in the toys or the hi-fi's, is it?

Gareth - In the toilet roll, maybe?

Eleanor - No, because I reckon that he wouldn't have put all of the answers as the middle because that would be too easy.

Andrew - Palm oil, food science, and more psychology to answer this question. Alright, let's go with 70.

Harry - You sure you don't want to go for the middle?

Andrew - Yep. We're definitely going. We're going all in.

Harry - It's not in those Hi-Fi systems. So the answer is 50%, 50% of the items in the supermarket.

Andrew - I've unredeemed myself.

Harry - You're right. It's not just sweets. Uh, included in many toiletries. So look out for it next time you're in a supermarket. You might, you might see it there, going by a few different names. But we're going to go onto a tie breaker. So this one's called the 'Monster Bat'. Yes. Bats are a favorite feature of many Halloween parties, but one type of bat you are less likely to encounter around this time of year is the cricket bat. Yep. After the infamous Monster Bat incident of 1771, when a cricket player called Thomas White used a bat, as wide as the wicket, the rules were modified to introduce a maximum width for said instruments on the pitch. To the nearest millimeter, what is the maximum width of a cricket bat as defined by the official rules? The official rules of cricket.

Chris - 120.

Gareth - I might, I think it might be a bit wider than 12 centimeters

Chris - 150?

Gareth - Yeah. I feel better with that, yeah.

Harry - 151 millimeters by team one. Team two?

Andrew - We could just go 150 and win by default.

Eleanor - I think. Or we could go one centimeter bigger and win by default that way?

Andrew - I think it's because if you think about a 15 centimeter ruler, I feel like that's wider than a cricket bat, but then I haven't played cricket for about as long as I haven't done GCSEs for, so...

Eleanor - Yes. I don't think I've ever done cricket in my life. So I bow to your superior knowledge.

Andrew - Should we go for 152? Let's go for 150. I'm doing it.

Harry - 150. So what you guys have done, basically, it's taken all that goodwill from the first question and you have thrown it under the bus. You're closer. You are closer team two, Eleanor and Andrew, with that horrible tactic. It is in fact 108 millimeters. So you might not be, you might not be the audience's favorite, but you do walk away with the prize. Well, there we go. How does it feel, team two?

Andrew - It feels great. I will pick up my cricket bat and run around the house celebrating.


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